Walk This Way

Helping Hands

Helping Hands

Have you ever died?  Sounds like a silly question but in fact if you hang around the hospital corridors long enough you’ll find that there are many patients that can truly answer that question with a, “Yes.”

“May I come in?” I asked.

“Sure!  Have a seat,” the patient said.

If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you been in?” I asked.

“Oh, about two and a half months, but I’ve only been here for about 3 weeks.”

“And how has your stay been?”

“Good.  I feel like I have had more progress in my rehabilitation in the past couple of weeks than in my entire month and a half at the other place.”

“Well, you sound great,” I replied.

The patient went on to say, “Ya know, I’ve been in cardiac arrest multiple times and I’m still here.  In fact, the last time I “woke up [from cardiac arrest]” some other medical professionals came to visit me because they couldn’t believe I was still alive.”

“Wow, sounds like you’ve been through a lot.”

“I have,” the patient said with a heavy sigh, turning his head slightly to the right and staring off into the corner of the room.  “But ya know…I’m still here,” he said turning back my direction regaining his presence, “…and I’m happy to share what I’ve been through with others if they think it will help them.  I had a conversation with someone who went through some similar operations to mine before I had them done and it helped me out a lot.”

According to the textbooks this patient really should not be alive at all, especially after multiple cardiac arrests, plural.  Moreover, the patient did not seem to entertain a “pity party” rather, they wanted to share their experience with others, not to talk at them, but to walk with them, through the tough times, to offer support and encouragement.

This patient was focused on what they were going to do now, being present- and future-focused instead of past-focused.  The patient began being an encourager, giving them the strength and motivation to live every day to walk alongside those with similar struggles, offering friendship with an empathetic smile.

I wonder how many times we share our stories to talk at someone instead of using a personal experience as a catalyst to walk with them.  How many people do you know that ask for support in times of need?  In my experience, there are many more people that could use an encouraging word than the number of people that ask for help.  What does this look like practically to you?  What can you do today to practice it?

“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

1 Corinthians 3-4

Rising Above the Paper Tigers

Dream it. Do it.

The night started off as any other.  Most patients I saw had been in the hospital a few days and were strategically nestled into their sterile white sheets, lit by the faint blue glow of their television monitor above.  Then there was this patient.

I walked into the room and introduced myself, or so I planned.  The patient interrupted my introductory address, held out his finger and took a sip of water.  A family member in the room defined the awkward pause and said that the patient’s voice was dry.

“Just a minute,” the patient said.

“Of course,” I replied.

The patient went on, “Now startover.  What was your name?”

I reintroduced myself and asked, “If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you been here?”

“Well, this time, just one day, but let me tell you this,” the patient answered.

The patient recounted when he first had heart complications and the many doctors he had seen over the years.  Then he said, “…so the doctor gave me very little time to live and it was then that I knew I had to make a decision.  I could either follow the doctor’s orders and live or keep on doing what I was doing and die.”

“You obviously chose wisely,” I briefly commented.

“Not only wisely,” the patient answered, “but that was 30 years ago and I still make that same decision every day of life.”

Take it literally or take it metaphorically, we do have some control over living or dying.  Want more proof?  Simply google the phrase effects of attitude on life and you will see that you can fill up cabinets with scholarly articles linking positive attitudes to longevity, stronger immune systems and relationships.

So are your daily questions, where are we going to eat? and what should I wear?  Or should we be more cognizant of making decisions of a deeper sort like, I’m going to make the decision to: reconcile with that person this week, or be confident, or emotionally available, or something like, I choose my spouse [or family], etc.  What it comes down to is this,

 “How are you choosing to live today?”

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” – Amelia Earhart (American Aviation Pioneer and Author)

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” – Scott Hamilton (American Figure Skater)

Ephesians 4:22-24

The Present of Presence

Gift Image

A Gift Only You Can Give

There is a vast array of personalities within the hospital corridors.  One patient may have lost their patience, inevitably showing their more animated characteristics, and yet another patient is quietly dreaming near their window in the evening hours, bible open, carefully lit by the 9 o’clock moon.  While one is yearning for silence another finds it hard to relax without the murmurs and drones of outside activities.  After having served over one hundred hours as a volunteer, it is clear to me that the patient that is living in the moment is the one that seems most at peace.

Peace; an uncommon word muttered, lest spoken, in any medical treatment or emergency facility.  One patients’ spouse told me that the greatest enemy in the hospital was not stress or disease, but rather our own mind.  Patients are usually in constant pursuit of the why’s, what-now’s, and how-soon’s.  While being prudent in the mission of understanding is critical during any hospital visit, the pursuit itself often turns into false projection, fears and useless worry.  Sticking to the facts is something we can readily hang onto.  Being in the moment however is an entirely more evanescent undertaking for many of us.

Much research has been conducted positively correlating the effects of present awareness and mindfulness on our overall well-being.  Being present rewards our bodies physically, mentally and emotionally.  This state of mind relates to the reduction of stress and mood disturbances (also proven to help with surgery and blood pressure), increased feelings of serenity, and opens up tributaries of acceptance, joy and peace.

Many things can steal us from the power of the moment: over analyzing our thoughts and actions, outside interruptions, toys/gadgets, electronics, should’s, could’s, and to-do’s.  Being present however immediately slides the dial back to our truest self without the anxiety of the future or the clanging of the past.  To quote the musician and songwriter Annie Lennox, “The future hasn’t happened yet and the past is gone.  So I think the only moment we have is right here and now…”.

What have you done lately to practice being in the moment?  Have you ever just stopped and began right where you are?  Take in the sounds and the sensations.  What is the faintest sound you can hear?  Is there a slight brush of air going across your face?  Is your breathing shallow or deep?  Focusing on things like these can help re-orient you to the moment.  It may take some practice, but try giving this gift to yourself 3-4 times a week, if not daily, and make the most of your moments, not tomorrow, but now.

“I never think of the future, it comes soon enough.” – Albert Einstein

“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” – C.S. Lewis (from the book: The Screwtape Letters, Letter #15)

“God exists in eternity. The only point where eternity meets time is in the present. The present is the only time there is.” – Marianne Williamson

2 Corinthians 13:11

What Do Your Pages Say?

Book Pages Image

Book Pages

The patient and I found ourselves immersed in a conversation about life, the days that have passed, and the days still ahead.  I learned that the patient was a professor at a well-known regional university.  About 10 minutes into the conversation it dawned on me that this patient is, in reality, in a hospital bed.  One wouldn’t guess that this lively and upbeat man was suffering.

The conversation came to a pause and I shifted my weight to the other foot and said, “Ya know, for being in the hospital, you sure are lively.”

The patient grinned.

“While it is only an observation, it seems to me that the recovery time for patients is far less for those patients who maintain a positive attitude throughout their recovery versus those that don’t feel as upbeat,” I remarked.

The patient replied by saying, “While it is only an adage, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.'”

“Well said.” I grinned.

“I will tell you one more thing,” the patient announced while shifting to sit upright, “A friend of mine once said that life is like a book.  Every page should be something that you can go back and touch.”

What is written in your proverbial book?  The best laugh you shared with your family, your child’s graduation, the return of a loved one.  What is not written?  Are there any missing or blank pages?  If so, why?  This man had a good point and I believe his proverb goes something like this:

“Books will never be obsolete, neither will your life.  Never include pages that do not have anything on them, they just weigh the book down.  Always be thankful for what you’re writing, as you never know how many times your story will be read.”

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

1 Timothy 4:16 The Message

The Power of Others

Two People Walking

Two People Walking

I spoke with a patient last week that needed a heart transplant.  They had outlived their prognosis by 9 years.  Upon asking the patient what they thought had contributed to living so far beyond their expectancy they said, “My daughter.”

As I made my rounds this evening another patient told me that they have had 4 intensive procedures done in the past few years and recently spent 9 months in the hospital. Yet, the patient’s attitude was very positive and upbeat.  Upon asking the patient what they thought had contributed to maintaining a healthy outlook they said, “God.”

Another family I had the pleasure of speaking with this evening had driven over 4 hours to get the hospital. The patient had multiple health issues and initially was unable to walk to the waiting room.  Just a couple of days later the patient was walking independently with a stroller around the hospital corridors in good spirits. I came alongside of the patient and asked them what they attributed the speed of their recovery to and they said, “Well, the great doctors but also my grandkids.”

Among the things that strike me about each of these real-life stories is the motivation the patients sought to help them recover came from someone, or something, beyond themselves: the patient’s daughter, God, and the grandkids.  It would be easy for most of us to say, “I’m going to get better so I can do…” or “…so I can accomplish…”. Yet in a sense, these patients said, “I’m going to get better [for someone else].”

Is there something in your life that is preventing the development of a close relationship, maybe with your spouse, your child, a coworker, or friend? Do you have someone in your life that you would be willing to “get better” for?  The real question is, “Why wait until you’re in the hospital?”

“Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Pilot, Writer and Author of ‘The Little Prince’, 1900-1944)

1 Corinthians 14:1 “Let love be your highest goal…”

The Doormat’s Backbone

1902 Wright Brothers' Glider Tests

1902 Wright Brothers' Glider Tests

I walked in and saw two worried faces.  One belonged to the person who was sitting on the edge of the chair looking directly at the patient, the other [the patient] laid in bed, skin discolored, flushed and weak.

After making introductions and asking a few preliminary questions I knew this conversation was far from exchanging normal pleasantries.  This conversation was going to have some depth.

“I have been in and out of the hospital more times than I would like to think about,” the patient said. “I’m lucky to be here.”

“Our facility is one of the best in the country,” I commented.

“No, I mean, I’m really lucky to be here.  I flatlined upon my arrival.”

The person sitting in the chair proceeded to tell me of the many procedures the patient had undergone at other institutions along with the imprecise diagnosis’ of their medical professionals.

“I was literally dying,” the patient stated. “It wasn’t until I saw the Doctor here that I knew I had a chance at living.”

“How is it that you have kept up your hope through everything you have been through?” I asked.

“Of course it comes down to faith, but there are times to fight.  Don’t just accept one person’s opinion; you have to keep on asking until you get down to the answer.  That’s what I have always done and it has literally given me my life back.”  The person sitting in the chair sat confidently nodding in agreement.

How often do we just accept what someone tells us?  If this patient would have lived this way it may have cost the patient their life.  Are we casually going through our weeks accepting attitudes that are negative, words that hurt, or actions that belittle us?  Is there something in our lives that we should take 100% responsibility for and take a stand?

Recently I heard someone on a medical radio program say, “I’m not eager to offend, but I’m not afraid to challenge.”  Let’s make sure to take inventory of who we are and what we’re going after.  If we need to challenge a certain habit, pattern, thought, do so with the confidence in knowing that nothing great has ever been achieved unquestioned.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” –  Helen Keller

Job 11:18

Hebrews 11:1

To Be or Not To Be, Without.

Home

While every room in the hospital is painted the same color, each room has a different story to tell.

“We purchased 15 acres of land a few years back and our entire family lives on it today,” the patient remarked.

“Just your immediate family?” I asked.

“No.  The grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren all live there.  That way we’re close enough that we can show up at a moments notice for anything any of us need,” the patient happily answered.

You don’t hear stories like this anymore.  People say they have a close family but what they  usually mean is that they talk to one another frequently on the phone or take monthly trips home.  This family lived entirely on the same land, celebrated every occasion and holiday together, and could be there when one or more of the family members needed help.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word “community” as a unified body of individuals. Are you part of a unified body of people you can rely upon? If not, it wouldn’t be surprising.  In the last few decades more and more people are reported to be living alone.  And why not, today’s world teaches us to be individualistic, make your own choices, YOU CAN DO IT-by yourself.  In actuality research suggests that if you live alone and neglect building a strong social network of close relationships, you are more prone to psychiatric disorders, loneliness and clinical depression.[1]

As I was leaving the patient’s room I smiled and said, “Get some rest and I’m keeping my fingers crossed you will be able to go home soon.”

The patient smiled and said, “That’s one of the best things [about living on the same land as the rest of the family]. I always look forward to going home!”

As I shut the door I was reminded of the old adage, “You get out of it what you put into it.” And so it is with being part of a healthy community.

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.” – George Bernard Shaw (1925 Nobel Prize for Literature)

“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” –  Henrik Ibsen (playwright of the late 19th century)

James 3:17 [The Message]